“Zef,” a burgeoning slang term, refers to the grimy South African rave-rap that has risen from the suburbs of Cape Town, and its accompanying theory that in fashion, real “style” is the extreme opposite of what’s in vogue. But although the “zef” credo is easy, dirty and catchy (and therefore primed for American taste buds), it lacks originality. The so-out-you’re-in mentality screams of musicians and trends in rebellions past. So does Die Antwoord.
The show, complete with blaring vulgarity and saggy costumes, felt like a ‘90’s Eminem music video. The hip-hop beats got the crowd of mostly young males jumping to playground-like tunes about someone’s mother, but haven’t we’ve heard this already? Ending after just 50 minutes, those of us expecting something authentic were left with a few forgettable x-rated translations and a surprisingly early bedtime.
Die Antwoord, Afrikaans for “the answer,” is not frontman MC Ninja’s first project. His real name is Wadkin Tudor Jones and he is a veteran South African rap scenester who also founded Max Normal, an earlier hip-hop crew. On Wednesday night, Jones paraded around the stage in various versions of sagging body suits and Dark Side of the Moon boxers, gradually peeling off layers to reveal a slew of tattoos. An insecure white rapper? Next.
Pint-sized girl rocker Yo-Landi Vi$$er brought slightly more to the table. Suggestively grinding on security, she out-rapped and out-danced Ninja most of the evening. But Vi$$er’s high-pitched act also felt forced (and, dare I say it, whiny). As she swagged across the stage in ensembles that included a massively over-sized uni-suit, a metallic spandex number likely from American Apparel, and an animal costume, I couldn’t help but wonder about the reason behind the shenanigans? If their intention is all for shock-value, then toss Die Antwoord in the pile with Lady GaGa, and consider me bored.
There is some good to be reported. DJ Hi-Tek, the group’s mysterious, 19-year-old, refreshingly silent beat-monster supplied the heavy synth-and-base fuel that powered the show along. Clad in a head-to-toe black cape and green horror mask, Hi-Tek was indeed the haunted force holding Ninja and Vi$$er’s ghetto-fabulous act together. If he ever pursues a solo tour, count on my attendance.
Similarly impressive, the visuals were a force to be reckoned with. The artist responsible for the art is also the odd-looking guy in Die Antwoord’s web-crashing video for “Enter the Ninja.” His name is Leon Botha and he is one of the world’s oldest survivors of Progeria, an extremely rare disease that makes one age faster than normal. This, if anything, is the collaboration that truly warrants applause.
The concept of presenting oneself as an extreme character is current — social networking at its best — but it’s also narcissistic, trendy and temporary. So here’s an old school argument: loudness doesn’t equal value, shock doesn’t equal creativity, and even the most outrageous performance doesn’t necessarily equal talent.
If “zef’s” requirements are to be so out you’re in, Die Antwoord is indeed “the answer.” I just don’t understand the question.